Schleck takes overall lead, Australia's Gerrans captures 15th stage
PRATO NEVOSO, Italy -- Frank Schleck of Luxembourg likes to attack. He also likes the look of his yellow jersey.
He became the new leader of the Tour de France on Sunday. Whether that lasts remains to be seen. The race is now in the Alps, where countless riders have been broken.
"Don't kick me while I'm happy," Schleck said.
Spaniard Carlos Sastre of the CSC team won the Tour de France in one of the closest finishes in the history of the 105-year-old race. A look at the stage-by-stage results:
|21||88.9||Gert Steegmans||Carlos Sastre|
|20||32.9 (time trial)||Stefan Schumacher||Sastre|
|16||97.6||Cyril Dessel||Frank Schleck|
|14||120.9||Oscar Freire||Cadel Evans|
|9||139.2||Riccardo Ricco||Kim Kirchen|
|4||18.3 (time trial)||Schumacher||Schumacher|
|3||129.2||Samuel Dumoulin||Romain Feillu|
|2||102.2||Thor Hushovd||Alejandro Valverde|
His jump to the front of cycling's showpiece event came on a day when Simon Gerrans of Australia won the 15th stage. Gerrans was not chased by the leading contenders. It was the first time he won a stage in four Tour appearances, a victory he called a "beautiful thing."
Schleck, who came into the stage one second behind Cadel Evans, sped ahead at the finish to wrest the yellow jersey from the Australian. Schleck leads Bernhard Kohl of Austria by seven seconds. Evans slipped to third, eight seconds back.
"For me to take the yellow jersey, it's a childhood dream," Schleck said.
Schleck credited CSC teammate and younger brother Andy for surging ahead at least twice during the final climb in a bid to force Evans to work hard.
"Thanks, bro," Frank Schleck said.
Schleck has had success before in the Alps, winning a Tour stage in 2006 up the famed Alpe d'Huez, which riders will face Wednesday. He now wants to build his lead in the mountains, knowing that Evans most likely will be stronger in the time trial during the next-to-last stage before the July 27 finish in Paris.
"If I can, I will attack," Frank Schleck said. "I have to take some time out of these guys of course if I want to win the Tour. But let me just enjoy it right now."
Trying to move beyond a string of doping scandals, the Tour has gotten tighter as it heads into the third and final week. Five riders are within 49 seconds of the leader -- up from three before Stage 15 started. Six riders have now worn the yellow jersey.
Some riders sensed Evans wasn't at his best Sunday.
"On a hilltop finish like this you don't need to have magic, you just got to have a strong team on the front," CSC rider Jens Voigt said. "Do hard tempo on the last climb, and our leaders take care of business. Put the hammer down basically."
Hendrik Redant, sporting manager of Evans' Silence Lotto team, played down the Australian's loss of the yellow jersey.
"I don't think Cadel was struggling too much," Redant said. "All the favorites are bunched together, and Cadel's within 10 seconds of the lead. It's good for him and it's good for the Tour."
Riders confronted three climbs -- including one nearly 13 miles up the Agnel pass that is so tough it defies classification in cycling's rating system -- and an uphill finish to complete the 114-mile route from Embrun, France, to Prato Nevoso.
Evans, who has said his team isn't the strongest in the mountains, came under repeated attack. On the final climb, top contender Denis Menchov of Russia skidded off his bike on a sharp turn while leading one attack. He got back up and still finished 27 seconds ahead of Evans.
Menchov is fourth overall, 38 seconds back, followed by American rider Christian Vande Velde, 39 seconds behind. Spain's Carlos Sastre, also on Team CSC, trails by 49 seconds.
Gerrans, of the Credit Agricole team, led a four-man group that broke away from the main pack early in the stage and clocked 4 hours, 50 minutes, 44 seconds to beat Spain's Egoi Martinez in second by three seconds. U.S. rider Danny Pate was third, 10 seconds behind.
The race lost two notable riders -- Spain's Oscar Pereiro and Britain's Mark Cavendish.
Pereiro, the 2006 winner, broke his left shoulder when he crashed over a guard rail during a sharp turn. He was injured about 49 miles into the stage and was taken to a hospital in Cuneo. Pereiro won the Tour two years ago after Floyd Landis was stripped of his title for doping.
Cavendish, a sprinter who won four stages in this race, pulled out before a day of mountain racing. His team said he was fatigued and the Alps posed too big an obstacle. Cavendish will now concentrate on next month's Olympics.
Riders take the second rest day Monday before two more grueling stages in the Alps, starting with a 98-mile ride from Cuneo to Jausiers, France, on Tuesday that features two daunting climbs.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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